Top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Thursday they are investigating whether the Federal Communications Commission improperly coordinated with the White House and public interest groups in the development of the network neutrality rules adopted in December.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the lawmakers cited instances where they say commission officials may have improperly met with the White House or outside groups to discuss the network neutrality rules. The FCC's rules bar broadband providers from discriminating against Internet content, services or applications. President Obama endorsed the rules after they were adopted.
"Agency decisions should be based on law and policy," Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., wrote.
"These allegations suggest the FCC's network neutrality proceeding was designed to fulfill a presidential campaign slogan, when it should have been based on an analysis of statutory authority, an economic analysis of the Internet service market, and an examination of the record," they added.
"If true, it seems the FCC failed to develop an independent conclusion derived from a balanced fact-based record, which is incompatible with proper rule-making."
Among the examples the lawmakers cited included meetings they say Genachowski and a top FCC official had at the White House during which the net neutrality rules were debated, and meetings between Commissioner Michael Copps' staff and the public interest group Free Press, which favored stronger net neutrality rules than were ultimately adopted.
The lawmakers have asked the FCC for information -- by Aug. 12 -- on a wide range of communications related to the commission's network neutrality proceeding between June 25, 2009 and Dec. 21, 2010.
The information includes all the communications between the FCC and the White House, as well as any third parties who discussed the issue with commission officials. In addition, the lawmakers are seeking information about whether FCC officials discussed any conditions or commitments related to the open Internet rules as part of its examination of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger.
A spokesman for Genachowski said, the agency woudl cooperate.
Public interest groups said committee probe unfairly targets net neutrality supporters and not opponents.
"This is a poorly researched, blatantly partisan fishing expedition," Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. "It cites the thoroughly debunked and ridiculous notion pushed by the group Judicial Watch that routine, publicly documented ex parte contacts between Free Press and Commissioner Copps' office were somehow nefarious. If that's what these congressmen call coordination, then Congress should be far more concerned with the agency's coordination with powerful companies like AT&T, which shaped the final net neutrality rules that Free Press roundly criticized."